Sunday, June 23, 2019

The Greatest Showman?: At the UC, Hugh Jackman Delivers a Huge Act, Man -- Chicago Theater / Concert Review

Concert / Theater Review

Hugh Jackman
The Man, The Music, The Show
United Center, Chicago 
June 21, 2019

Anyone who doesn't admire Hugh Jackman at some level would seem to be actively trying not to.

At 50 (like me), the guy is incredibly handsome and absolutely ripped (unlike me).

He is a bona fine A-list movie star, whose films have grossed nearly $7 billion worldwide. As the X-Men's Wolverine, he has been a bankable franchise superhero, yet he's also starred in quality flicks like The Prestige, Prisoners and The Fountain.

Seemingly uncaring about any snickering perceptions regarding his sexuality, or how it might hamper his movie stardom, he has long been unabashed about his love of musical theater--starring on Broadway in 2004 as the gay icon Peter Allen in The Boy From Oz--which has led to his starring in movie musicals such as Les Miserables and The Greatest Showman.

Straight, though unafraid to flaunt flamboyant dance moves--and cheekily shake his ass for onstage closeups--he's been married to Deborra-Lee Furness for 23 years, and I don't recall ever noting any gossip or controversies. The Hollywood star lives in New York, but is clearly proud of his Australian heritage, also celebrating that country's aboriginal people.

Jackman has hosted the Tony Awards four times, the Oscars once and engages in delightful Twitter banter with his superhero pal, Ryan Reynolds.

And he just seems like a helluva nice guy.

Having seen him in The Boy From Oz and also the Broadway drama A Steady Rain, I've long been well aware of how talented Hugh Jackman is, across many realms.

With his current stadium tour, dubbed The Man, The Music, The Show--which landed at Chicago's United Center on Friday night--his diverse gifts and broad charm are even more greatly amplified.

At 7:15pm--fortunately the 14,000 ticket holders were forewarned that the show would start promptly, though a 15-minute cushion was provided--Jackman took the stage with "The Greatest Show," followed by "Come Alive," both from The Greatest Showman.

Backed by a large orchestra led by Patrick Vaccariello, with numerous dancers and backing vocalists, it was immediately clear that this was a well-planned and constructed show, directed by Warren Carlyle, who has helmed many a Broadway musical.

Throughout the night, Jackman would demonstrate remarkably dexterous skills as a singer, dancer, tap dancer, actor, pianist, drummer, emcee and more.

Amiable and glib, he recognized the UC as being not only where Michael Jordan had played, but also Luc Longley, an Australian who was the center on three Chicago Bulls championship teams.

Recalling his first stage audition, a successful one for Beauty and the Beast, he camped his was through that show's "Gaston," which segued into a tribute to his always-encouraging wife.

Noting that the Rolling Stones were playing at Soldier Field Friday night, Jackman told of Furness--who, per projected images, resembles his childhood crush, Olivia Newton-John--opting to hang with him early in their courtship, forgoing an invitation to party with Mick Jagger.

Sweetly, he dedicated the torch song, "All the Way"--and the entire show--to his wife, and told loving stories about his super-supportive father before mesmerizing with a magnificent rendition of "Soliloquy" from Carousel.

The star also wasn't afraid to share the stage, with the vast Windy City Gay Chorus & Treble Choir joining him on "You Will Be Found"--from the musical Dear Evan Hansen, composed by Benj Pasek & Justin Paul, who also did The Greatest Showman--and later on a medley from Les Misérables. (See video on YouTube.)

Female vocalist Jenna Lee James dazzled in a solo on Greatest Showman's "This is Me," while another woman whose name I didn't catch and can't find sang "I Dreamed a Dream" from Les Miz about as well as could be imagined.

After a 20-minute intermission amid what would be two full hours of performance, Jackman came back onstage in character as Peter Allen, reprising not only songs but some of his shtick from The Boy From Oz.

Bringing a young girl up to the catwalk stage, he adorably charmed her, her parents and presumably everyone in the arena.

Jackman made a point of introducing, showcasing and at times engaging with all of the musicians onstage with him, and one of the most moving parts of the show featured aboriginal performers performing a pair of native songs.

One of them, an elder named Olive Knight, then delivered a moving statement, thematically coinciding with Pride Month's message of inclusion, respect and love (and with Hugh urging the crowd to put Australia's outback on their bucket list).

You can see the Chicago setlist here--save for a song or two, it remains static from show-to-show--with Jackman's medley of songs from movie musicals just one more highlight of a truly impressive performance.

Though it's a great tune, no reason was provided by Jackman--as opposed to many enlightening song introductions--about why he covered Bobby Darin's "Mack the Knife" late in the show, and it puzzled a bit.

Clearly, everything performed was a number precious to the star, and that's good enough for me, but I would've relished "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning" from Rodgers & Hammerstein's Oklahoma--in which Jackman notably starred onstage--and/or something representing his announced return to Broadway (in late 2020) in The Music Man.

Also, though a recorded bit of AC/DC's "Thunderstruck" accompanied a tap dance routine along with some other rock songs, I'd be curious as to what Hugh might do in singing some Oz rock classics, such as Midnight Oil's "Beds are Burning" or INXS' "What You Need."

With fine staging, video screens and an enthusiastic, sold-out crowd, The Man, The Music, The Show fit well into the vast arena, but undoubtedly would've been even more enjoyable in a more intimate theater. So while I loved Jackman's performance and would recommend it to anyone--a Chicago encore is slated for October 11--from my perch up high in the back it didn't quite "get me" on par with the very best rock concerts or Broadway shows.

Still, excepting the likes of Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Harry Belafonte and others from days of yore, it's hard to imagine any movie star (or even current Broadway performer) attempting a show & tour of this magnitude, let alone pulling it off with such panache.

I've heard nothing but great things about the Stones' show Friday night and I'm thrilled to be going on Tuesday, but it says a lot about my--now elevated--regard for Jackman that I was happy to be able to see him, even with "The World's Greatest Rock 'n Roll Band" also in town.

For if Hugh Jackman isn't the explicitly the Greatest Showman in our midst, he's undoubtedly the best theatrical-type performer who also happens to be a Marvel cinema superhero.

As he himself quipped, "Let's see Ryan Reynolds do that."

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